Back To Normal Again…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

In spite of the cold, I bundled up to take a stroll through the neighborhood. My husband and I returned from a trip to the Holy Land a few days earlier and I hoped this trek through winter would help me to shake the jet-lag which held me captive. Happily, as soon as I reached the sidewalk in front of our house, I felt better.

Snow piles on either side of the walk reached well above my ankles. Occasional blocked sidewalks caused me to detour into the street where snowplows had left clear paths. It was there that I looked up to thank God. “Yes, I’m home,” I said aloud, “and I feel like I’m home! Thank you!” With that, I discovered a patch of gray-stained snow beneath my feet. “Hmmm. Though you’ve lost your luster, you’re still snow,” I whispered reassuringly.

I’d certainly lost my luster during the long flights home. I hoped that those nearby could see past my tired exterior to the real me. I smiled as I recalled reassuring voices from my past who’d urged me on when I’d lost my sparkle here and there. Their encouragement had made all of the difference. As I walked on, I found similarly afflicted bits of nature: A mighty birch bent low under heavy snow; an invisible pond hidden under a blanket of white; a row of arbor vitae reduced to a mass of tangled branches pointing everywhere but up. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “You’ll all be back to normal before spring.”

You know, when God created this earth, God also created an amazing source of hope for humankind. In the greatness and foibles of nature, God revealed the greatness and foibles which beset us all. When we take the time to learn from the gifts around us, we find encouragement, mercy and God’s awesome unconditional love. We also find the promise of another chance to regain our luster and to become our best selves once again.

Thank you, Creative God, for the gifts of Creation and for the lessons in life which we find among them.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Unique Handiwork

I admit that today I’m writing quickly and offering prayers of thanksgiving all the while. The good deacon and I are returning to Israel for a final visit. While I’m absolutely thrilled about this, completing everything on our to-do lists beforehand has been challenging. When I finally felt that I had things under control, Mike reminded me that we needed to head north to check on our little cabin in the woods before boarding that plane. Fortunately, this bit of caretaking could be accomplished in a single day. Three days later, we set out just after the morning rush-hour morphed into manageable traffic. Mike chose the new scenic route we discovered during a recent stormy drive home. Though I rarely read in the car, I turned to this week’s scripture passages to get a head start on this writing. I needed inspiration and I hoped that it would come in the scenery I’d enjoy along the way. Though I read and reread the scriptures, I didn’t receive that nudge from above which elicits an audible “aha” and an idea I can’t ignore…

As it happened, we made excellent time until we saw what seemed to be a huge cloud of fog looming over the road ahead. Before we could comment on that eerie vision, we realized that the fog was actually a mass of tiny snowflakes which grew larger with every passing second. While Mike lamented the possibility of driving that last hour in a blizzard, I whispered a prayer of gratitude. As the poor man carefully drove on, the beautiful flakes dancing around the car captivated me. “Thank you!” I whispered again. I didn’t realize as I prayed that my plea for inspiration would soon be answered quite generously.

You see, of all of the amazing beauty which nature offers, I love snow most. As a little girl, my favorite art projects involved making snowflakes. I remember my teacher patiently demonstrating how to fold and cut scraps of white paper to fashion beautiful snow designs. She reminded us not to worry about the patterns we’d make because each of our creations was meant to be as different as real snowflakes. In the end, we covered our classroom windows with hundreds of unique bits of paper snow. Years later, a high school science teacher confirmed that every snowflake is different. During college, while I waited for Chicago el trains many a wintry day, I studied the snowflakes that rested on my blue pea coat. Their uniquely intricate artistry fascinated me.

As Mike and I drove through what evolved into a mere twenty minute diversion, I took advantage of the opportunity to study snow once again. Did you know that some snowflakes seem to fall in straight lines to the ground while others just a few inches away slant to the right or the left? Still others puff up into billowy clouds before making their descent. Some snowflakes zigzag to and fro regardless of the presence or absence of the wind. When the wind makes itself known, these seemingly hapless comings and goings continue more frenetically than ever. As I reminded myself that it was I who should move frenetically because of all I had to do, my spirit basked in the beauty of the snowfall that blanketed our car that day. As Mike navigated through that mini blizzard, the inspiration I was granted came to fruition.

It occurred to me that you and I aren’t very different from the snowflakes that brought me such peace that day. Each of us is unique in his or her own right. In spite of our opinions or those of others, our personal packaging and personalities, interests and talents are among God’s best work. Some of us travel in straight lines, while others zigzag with a bit of uncertainty or simply because they choose to do so. Still others find themselves suspended in the clouds before making their way home. Some travel only to the right or to the left. All of us adjust our courses with the wind. Is that wind actually God’s Spirit guiding and inspiring us along the way? In the end, like snowflakes, God sprinkles us where we’re meant to be to transform this earth as only we can.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew (4:12-23) tells us that Jesus was heartbroken over the death of his cousin John the Baptist. Still, Jesus followed God’s Spirit and John’s work by beginning his own work among us. Convinced of our importance to one another, Jesus began his ministry by calling others to his side. Peter and Andrew, James and John couldn’t imagine where that journey might take them, yet they willingly became the first of the community who would follow Jesus. Like the snowflakes which tossed and turned in the wind outside of our car, the disciples’ lives turned topsy-turvy during the three years that followed. All the while, God’s Spirit led them as Jesus walked at their sides. In the end, Jesus and his friends transformed the world even more beautifully than the blanket of snow that surrounded us on the way to the cabin that day.

Jesus invites you and me to answer God’s call and to open ourselves up to God’ Spirit as well. Though our journeys will likely not be as adventurous as those of the first disciples, our impact upon this world can be equally dramatic. Whether we veer to the left or the right, zigzag or land in a cloud, when we move with God’s Spirit, we accomplish what we are called to do and we end precisely where we are meant to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

J… Joy

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
recovery of sight to the blind
and release to prisoners…

Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on joy. A recent off-the-cuff comment opened an old wound. Though I tend to let go of hurts from the past, my heart ached. I distracted myself by perusing the newspaper which increased my melancholy exponentially. I set aside the paper and grabbed the remote. As I surfed the channels, a news report caught my eye. The update confirmed that recent violence was accomplished to honor God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have been hurting one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Still… Before I could repeat my question, a strong gust scattered glitter-like snow across the frozen ground. Almost on cue, several birds fluttered about, ensuring that those sparkling bits of ice remained afloat. When the birds congregated at their favorite feeder, another gust lifted the silver-white specks yet higher. That gust lifted my heart as well. “Thank you, Lord!” I said aloud.

Though that glistening snow didn’t change the subzero temperature outdoors, it filled me with winter’s beauty. Though those flitting flakes will eventually settle and melt, God’s handiwork surrounds me. As long as some of us continue to appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, let’s revel in the joy and share that joy with one another at every opportunity.

Generous God, you share your joy with us through Creation, through those you have given us to love and through your presence deep within us. Help us humans to focus on your joy in spite of our continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lights Our Way

Little children,
let us love in deed and in truth…

From 1 John 3:18

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. It was once an odd phenomenon to hear the local television meteorologist speak of the possibility of snow. After all, we’ve just turned our calendars to November! Unfortunately, the meteorological antics of Halloween 2019 seem to have changed that forever. Though she offers encouragement with a promise that sunshine will return tomorrow, this weather expert cannot dispel the gray which lurks beyond my window today. Though I do enjoy the cold, I enjoy sunshine as well.

It occurs to me that, on occasion, my knowledge of human nature fails me as much as the weather does. I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. When the thunder in my adversary threatens, I push when I should let go. I forget to let love take care.

Like raking leaves after a windstorm or shoveling snow after a blizzard, I make feeble attempts to right the things I’ve done wrong. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, the damage is too extensive to repair. As I reaffirm my resolve not to repeat these transgressions, the sun breaks through the clouds. God remains with me as I transform my good intentions into good deeds.

Patient God, help me respond to every storm with rays of love, just as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joy-filled Seasons

“Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it…”

Psalm 98, 1:7

Each of the seasons captivates me with its unique variety of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with hints of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though fall’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, its own colors renew my fascination with the outdoors. Still, in spite of all of this beauty, I find myself most taken by the coldest season of the year. Recent blustering winds more than hinted at winter’s impending arrival. They tricked and treated us on Halloween Day with an onslaught of snow and cold. Though I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow, I felt for the children who braved winter conditions to collect their annual ration of Halloween candy.

In spite of that frosty Halloween of five days ago, a yard-full of leaves beckoned me outdoors. When I joined them on our lawn, I heard them crackling as they flew. I wondered if they were laughing at my my incorrect assessment that the snow had brought this year’s raking to a close. Perhaps those leaves chuckled because mounds of snow will soon require my attention as they did on Halloween.

Still, I welcome winter. During winter, numerous living things lie dormant beneath the surface. To me, they symbolize the potential to be found each one of us. Amazing gifts too often lurk beneath the surface. Discovering these new or forgotten gifts in those I’ve been given to love reminds me of the hidden treasures I find after my annual encounters with winter. Though they may be hidden for a while, the gifts of this life are everywhere and in everyone I meet along the way.

Creator God, thank you for the beauty of this world and of our human family.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C… Creation!

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before God!

Psalm 96:11-12

C is for Creation. When life is going well, I’m drawn outdoors to share my good fortune with Nature. When I’m troubled in great ways or small, Nature’s order and beauty beckon me with a promise of peace and better things to come. I cannot take in the tiniest of this earth’s treasures without also taking in the treasure of God’s loving care for me.

In my neck of the woods, we endured a cold and snowy winter. December required us to engage our snow-blower. In January, Nature transformed our neighborhood into a winter wonderland. The white blanket remained for weeks on end. When it seemed to hint at melting a bit in February, March roared in to restore its white grandeur. The snow which fell in April came and went through Easter. Still, Winter’s intrusion into Spring 2019 didn’t deter my appreciation of Nature’s absolute beauty. Whether blanketed in icy white or lush green, the loveliness I find outdoors is always miracle enough to nourish my spirit.

As I continue to alphabetize God’s amazing gifts, I rely heavily upon the gift of Creation. It is there that I find God’s wonder in its purest form. If Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I? As I ponder all of this further, it occurs to me that we have very good reason to take good care of ourselves, those God has given us to love and this amazing world of ours…

Dear God, help us all to care for the precious gifts of Creation, especially one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved